The world was introduced to rock’s next powerhouse in late 2002, when Audioslave released their self-titled debut album.
The band began reuniting two years earlier, after vocalist Zack de la Rocha split from Rage Against the Machine. The other members still wanted to make music but didn’t know how to proceed. “Tim [Commerford] and Brad [Wilk] and I knew we wanted to play together,” guitarist Tom Morello told The Tuna on Toast with Stryker podcast in 2021. “And there were a few interesting offers from our record company. ‘OK, we have a great idea. You should be so and so’s rescue group.
Although discouraged by the label’s suggestions, an idea from producer Rick Rubin caught their attention.
“I think the first day Rick contacted us with Cornell, we were at his house and we all listened [the Soundgarden song] ‘Slaves and Bulldozers’ and we talked about how Cornell could do it all,” Commerford later told Artist Waves.
Morello and Rubin agreed to visit Cornell at his home in Ojai, a scenic and remote town about two hours north of Los Angeles. Once the duo arrived at the Cornell mansion, the reunion began inauspiciously.
Watch Audioslave’s ‘Cochise’ video
“The super tall front doors, they open like the Addams Family style, like no one is opening the doors,” Morello said. Tuna on toast“and walks out Chris – 6ft 3in, lanky in frame and gloomy in decorum. And he started slowly down the stairs, and Rick turned to me and said, ‘Let’s get out of here Our souls are at stake.”
Morello, however, was not so easily frightened. After a positive introduction and discussion, Cornell agreed to join the rest of the band in Los Angeles to jam. The wait for everyone involved: Let’s see what happens.
“We’re jamming with Chris Cornell!” Commerford remembered thinking. “That in itself made my hair stand on end.”
“I arrived and I said to myself that I will know in 10 minutes [if this will work],” Cornell noted of that first session. “And within 10 minutes I knew it was going to be awesome.”
The chemistry between the musicians was instantaneous. Cornell’s powerful and emotive vocals proved to be a perfect match for the bombastic onslaught of Rage alumni music. The first song they wrote together, “Light My Way,” set the stage for what was to follow.
Listen to Audioslave’s “Light My Way”
“I remember being a little nervous at first,” Commerford told Artist Waves. “We had been playing with Zack for so many years, and then here comes another guy. It was kind of nerve-wracking to play with another singer that I didn’t know. I had met Chris a couple of times, but didn’t know him from the everything. At that time, he wasn’t exactly at his best. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but we wrote ‘Light My Way’ during that first day, and it ended up being on our first record. We left that day thinking, “We did it. That’s cool. We wrote a song and it sounds great. That was it. That little fire lit everything. I think that’s it.” That’s how the best music works. You’re out of sorts until you write a song that you love and inspires you to write more.
With the musical ice officially broken, song ideas quickly emerged from the group.
“We wrote about 21 songs in 19 days. And that was the most fertile and creative time of our careers,” Morello explained, though he admitted he couldn’t always gauge Cornell’s reaction to the band’s ideas. “Chris would kinda sit there and stare at the floor [while they played]. And at first, we were like, ‘What is he doing?’ And then he stood at the microphone and sang the song.
Listen to Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway”
On 14 tracks, Audioslave delivered moments of aggression, emotion and pure joie de vivre. The album opener “Cochise” would be the lead single, an emphatic and heartbreaking introduction to the band. “Show Me How to Live” offered some of the heaviest riffing on the album, while “I Am the Highway” took another direction, with Cornell’s soaring and vulnerable vocals displaying a certain fragility.
Still, the moving “Like a Stone” was arguably the album’s strongest track – although Commerford admitted he was initially confused by Cornell’s lyrics.
“He’s a poet. And he cheated on me with a lot of songs. A song like ‘Like a Stone’, I thought was a love song,” Commerford explained. “The chorus is ‘I will wait for you there, like a stone, I will wait for you there alone.’ And I was like, ‘Yo, bro. What are you waiting for?’ And he’s like, ‘Waiting to die.’ And I just went, ‘Oh, OK. It changes everything. I went back and watched the song and was a little saddened by what he sings. It’s like a guy waiting alone in a house of death and all his friends die and he’s just waiting there. And I imagine this man in a rocking chair waiting to die. It just changed everything for me.
Watch Audioslave’s “Like a Stone” video
Released in November 2002, Audioslave eventually selling over 3 million copies in the United States, “Like a Stone” became the band’s most successful track, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s rock and alternative charts, peaking at No. 31 on Billboard. Hot 100 and earning the group a Grammy nomination.
Yet, beyond sales figures and awards, Audioslave proved that the band was unequivocally not Soundgarden or Rage Against the Machine. Instead, it was a living, breathing beat, greater than the sum of its already famous parts.
“I see Audioslave as more classic rock, vocalist, chord progression type music. Things like that, we never really did with Rage,” Commerford told Artist Waves. think back and I love Rage, I love what it does, then Audioslave came along and it was so different. It’s the thing I’m most proud of. We didn’t just go back and do a bunch of rock riffs and put Cornell’s vocals in there. We did something really different.
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